By Kemesseng Sanneh
The National Assembly Select Committee on Trade and Regional Integration has on Monday started a 6-day tour to border posts and customs posts across the country.
The tour is a fact-finding mission to garner information on the ECOWAS protocol for the free movement of people, goods and services.
According to the Chairperson of the select committee, Muhammed Maharena, the exercise is mandated to them by the constitution as part of their oversight function under section 109.
The committee first visited Basse Customs Post.
Chairperson Maharena informed the officials about the purpose of their visit, saying the committee is an oversight function to access the trade and related matters as per Ecowas protocol.
Baba Ceesay, the Manager of Basse Customs Post, informed the committee that their region has four border customs post, namely Basse Customs Post, Sere Njai Post, Nyamanarr Customs Post and Sabi Customs Post.
Ceesay said they have two important mandates, namely security and revenue collection. The security aspect, he said, is to secure the country armed personnel. On trade of goods and services (revenue collection) he said they mainly do inspection of goods and revenue collection for the Government.
Ceesay was quick to state the lack of cooperation from the sister countries, particularly Senegal, in terms of Ecowas protocol on free movement of goods and services.
“Our goods are always blocked by the Senegalese and Guinean authorities. Guinea authorities blocked our (goods) for almost a month, like tomatoes, butter and mangoes coming to the Gambia,” he said.
Billy Tunkara, a member of the committee, asked manager Ceesay’s recommendation on the delay in free trade and truck tracking.
In his respond, Ceesay indicated that the Senegalese authorities aren’t respecting the Ecowas protocol on free movement of people, goods and services.
“We do sign documents with them on free movement of goods and services but in the implementation, they will not adhere to the letter and spirit of the agreement, which affects the free movement,” he said.
Ceesay gave an example of a vendor from The Gambia trading either in Mali, Guinea or Senegal, he/she will be charged by the Senegalese authorities’ custom duties for the goods coming via Senegal to The Gambia. He said this is in contrary to the Ecowas protocol on free movement of goods. He added that they normally relied on their francophone laws.
The committee next visit was Sere Njai Border Posts and the official there informed the committee that their post mainly focus on security matters due to crime rate in the region such as armed attacks and cattle sealing.
“The post isn’t a revenue collection centre but a security post because of border crimes. This is why we are issued with guns during (ex-President Yahya) Jammeh era. But during the coming of the new government, the guns are withdrawn from the custom and sister security sector are deployed to provide security to the community like SIS, Immigration, PIU and customs,” said Buba Ceesay, the manager overseeing the four customs posts.
The committee proceeded to Nyamanar Customs Post, consisting both trade and security services.
Manager Ceesay told the committee that Nyamanarr Customs Post that trade goods that leave The Gambia for Senegal, Mali and Guinea are more than the goods coming into the country. This, he said, is good for the economy. On security aspect, he said the Post inspects prohibited and illegal transportation of goods.
Chairperson Maharena asked him whether the Ecowas protocol is observed during their exercise and he answered in the negative. He informed the members that Mali, Senegal and Guinea are charging Gambian traders D1, 000 to D3, 000 which is a violation of the aforesaid protocol, adding “our borders aren’t properly identified.”
“I sometimes want to revenge but the ministry will tell me to stop,” Ceesay added.
Ceesay told the committee that Gambian authorities respect all the Ecowas protocol but their counterparts are not.
Meanwhile, senior officers at the post informed the committee about the lack of mobility to do their border patrols. They said they have one vehicle which currently has a problem since October last year.
Thereafter, the committee’s final visit was Sabi Customs Post. Manager Ceesay again explained to the committee that the post carries out trade and security services. He outlined the challenges the post grapples with on the free movement of goods and services from the sister countries. He explained that fuel tankers that transport fuel from The Gambia to Mali are kept at the border of Senegal for days.